NorthEast United FC started the 2019-20 ISL season with a goalless draw against holder Bengaluru FC followed by a win over Odisha FC. But things went downhill quickly as the club went on a 14-game winless streak to finish second from the bottom.
After going through a coaching change, NorthEast United FC will look to start afresh under new head coach Gerard Nus.
After scoring just 16 goals in 18 matches, the lowest in the league last season, NorthEast will look to begin ISL 2020-21 on a good note featuring its new-look attack.
The Highlanders have signed Portuguese winger Luis Machado alongside Guinean international Idrissa Sylla and former Crystal Palace striker Kwesi Appiah. The arrival of full-back Ashutosh Mehta from Mohun Bagan could see the team benefit from his crosses down the right channel, while I-League-winning striker V. P. Suhair’s signing will give the team much-needed depth up front.
Inconsistencies in the Highlanders’ defence have cost them dearly as they lost five matches by two goals or more last season. Ghanian superstar Asamoah Gyan, one of the marquee signings last season, was the club’s top scorer with four goals, which underlined NorthEast’s struggles to score under former coach Robert Jarni.
Six of the team’s eight defeats last season were without a reply, while it lost once and drew twice after taking the lead. Besides the departure of Gyan and Uruguayan striker Martin Chaves, promising youngsters Redeem Tlang and Reagan Singh have left for rival clubs, which could hurt the team’s balance.
Retaining playmaker Federico Gallego for another season might prove to be a big positive for NorthEast as a change in style could see the 30-year-old rediscover the form that was vital to NorthEast’s run to the semifinals in 2018-19. The experience of forwards Sylla, Appiah and Machado will be helpful for Nus’ attack-minded style.
The defensive additions have been interesting as the club has opted for versatility and experience after last season’s struggles. Australian Dylan Fox, who can play across the backline and as a tackling midfielder, has been signed alongside centre-back Benjamin Lambot, who has spent 13 seasons playing in the Belgian top flight. French-born Mauritania international Khassa Camara will look to provide competition for places in the midfield.
Having acquired his pro license at the age of 22, Nus has worked in the capacity of assistant coach at Liverpool under Rafael Benitez and the Ghana national team under Avram Grant, who coached NorthEast United in 2018.
The Spaniard has also worked in the role of sporting director at Spanish clubs Elche and Rayo Vallecano. With a wealth of experienced foreigners at his disposal, it will be interesting to see how the Spaniard integrates young talents such as Lalengmawia, Ninthoinganba Meetei and Lalrempuia Fanai into his team.
Though Nus has not officially named his captain for the season, last season’s skipper Federico Gallego is expected to continue wearing the armband.
The team will hope to see the Uruguayan fit for the beginning of the season as his absence in the first half of 2019-20 saw the Highlanders struggle to keep the ball in the centre and create chances up front.
Best new signing
The London-born Appiah could turn out to be an inspired signing for NorthEast as the striker brings the experience of playing in the Premier League, Championship and FA Cup with him.
The Ghana international might not be the fastest of strikers, but he possesses supreme aerial ability and positioning, which makes him a threat inside the box. His ability to operate as a winger and attacking midfielder gives NorthEast the flexibility to play him across the frontline.
In 23 matches as head coach in the US and Kazakhstan, Nus predominantly used a 4-2-3-1 formation besides experimenting with a defensive 4-4-2 and 4-3-3.
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